Province could call for judicial inquiry into Ottawa's LRT

Just hours after council voted against calling for a judicial inquiry into the Confederation Line, the provincial cabinet will look into calling one itself.

Transportation minister's office says 'all options are on the table'

A woman and a man
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, left, and Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney, in blue, launched the Confederation Line in September 2019. Now Mulroney's office says the government is looking for more accountability from the project. (CBC)

Just hours after Ottawa city council voted against a judicial inquiry into the problem-plagued Confederation Line, the provincial cabinet will look into calling one itself.

In an email to CBC Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney wrote that the province is "increasingly concerned" with the city's ability to carry out future phases of work on the light rail network.

"We need to have full confidence that the city will be able to successfully deliver," the spokesperson said. 

The province has committed $1 billion to Ottawa's LRT Stage 2, and a previous Liberal government gave the city $600 million for Stage 1.

"As a result, we are looking at options that will increase the province's oversight of the project, in an effort to protect taxpayers and transit riders," according to the email.

"This may include a judicial inquiry, a review by Ontario's auditor general and further measures that may require provincial legislation. All options are on the table."

The minister's spokesperson says more oversight is being considered after hearing repeated concerns from industry stakeholders and city councillors over the execution of Stage 1. 

The Confederation Line has been shut down since mid-September when a train derailed near Tremblay station. The city confirmed Wednesday that partial service will resume Friday.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says Ontario Premier Doug Ford seemed pleased by council's decision ask the city auditor to look into the LRT. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Auditor 'not a pushover'

A senior Conservative source close the premier's office told CBC that provincial officials were disappointed council voted down a motion Wednesday for a judge to look into everything that led up to the city's contract with Rideau Transit Group, the launch of the Confederation Line and its troubled operation.

The source called the LRT an "epic screw up" that can't "just be swept under the rug" and that there has to be more accountability for how this all went wrong.

Now, the provincial cabinet is looking to take the matter into its own hands and will be discussing what options to take as early as next week. 

"I would support an inquiry that is pursued by the provincial government," said Coun. Catherine McKenney, who twice tried to get council to sign onto an inquiry.

"I think that it's required if city council won't move forward. I'm actually not surprised [as] the provincial government has invested quite a bit of funding."

Mayor Jim Watson was asked about the province looking into the Confederation Line during a news conference after Wednesday's council meeting.

The Ontario government could potentially hold back some of the $1 billion it has committed to Ottawa's LRT Stage 2, or it could call a judicial inquiry due to the ongoing problems with the Confederation Line. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

He said he had spoken with Premier Doug Ford a few weeks ago about the council's decision last month to ask the city's auditor general to investigate the LRT instead of a judge, and the premier seemed pleased.

That doesn't appear to be the case any longer. The mayor told reporters there's been no contact between either city politicians or city staff with the province about any interest of theirs to host their own inquiry, the cost of which would have to be borne by the province.

Watson also defended the work of the city's new auditor, Nathalie Gougeon.

"She's not a pushover," he said, "This is not some exercise where she's trying to appease her political masters. I expect that she will do a very thorough analysis and research into all of the problems, going back to Day 1."